New Washington County commissioner helped put the oaks in Oakdale

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OAKDALE — Stan Karwoski's road to the Washington County board began with the Oakdale Parks and Planning Commission in 1994.

"I'm a parks guy at heart, and I really wanted to contribute," Karwoski said of applying for a spot on the city commission. "That was the beginning. I was kind of successful in getting some things done."

Karwoski, who was sworn in Dec. 6 as Washington County's newest commissioner, spoke of parks, politics and the Master's golf tournament during an interview in an Oakdale Starbucks earlier in December.

Karwoski worked his way up in Oakdale government, serving on the tree board, the Tartan Arena board, the Blue Ribbon Recreation Committee, the 622 Education Foundation, the Yellow Ribbon board, the city council and eventually as mayor. He also was on the county's parks and open space commission.

When Washington County Commissioner Ted Bearth, who also had been an Oakdale mayor, died in March, Karwoski decided to run for the District 2 seat in the Nov. 8 special election. He was elected with 55 percent of the vote.

But Karwoski's rise through the ranks hasn't been entirely smooth. When he first ran for public office in 1998, he came in fourth out of 14 candidates running for two seats on the Oakdale City Council.

Karwoski, a father of four and youth softball and hockey coach, wasn't deterred. He ran again in 2000, ending up third in a field of 13 candidates for two slots.

When a council member moved out of town in 2001, the council appointed Karwoski — as the next highest vote-getter — to join them. "I was able to prove myself then," he said.

He ran for council in 2002 and was elected. He ran for mayor in 2014 after Mayor Carmen Sarrack decided not to run for re-election. "He had been mayor for 16 years, so those were big shoes to fill, but I got a solid win," Karwoski said.

'Parks guy'

The self-described "parks guy," said he is especially proud of his work regarding parks and trees.

In 2006, the Oakdale Tree Board, an organization Karwoski helped found, was recognized by the National Arbor Day Foundation for its roadside tree planting projects and streetscape volunteer planting program.

"We have some of the best community tree planting in the metro area," Karwoski said. "We probably have more oaks now spread throughout the city (than ever before). I feel really proud about that — that I was able to help restore our oak name."

Two years later, Karwoski was among Oakdale officials who cut the ribbon on the Oakdale Discovery Center in the city's 220-acre Nature Preserve. The $2 million center replaced a converted two-story home that was too small, needed excessive repairs and had little appeal as a gathering spot, Karwoski said.

He said the Oakdale Nature Preserve, which features trails for walking and bicycling, is one of his favorites. "It's the best-kept secret in the city. There are wetlands, unbelievable wildlife. When we have visitors come to Oakdale, they can't believe it."

He credits city officials who worked to preserve the land.

"Much of it would have been hard to develop, but you could have maneuvered in certain homes," he said. "They just had the vision to say, 'Hey this is a magical piece of property. Let's preserve it as a big wilderness park.'"

Two new groceries

Karwoski is also proud of his work on Tartan Crossing, the new mixed-use development that is anchored by a Hy-Vee supermarket. The city bought the old Oakdale Mall site and worked for eight years to redevelop the property.

"It has really put us on the map — just the vitality that it's given our community," Karwoski said.

Across the street is another site he's proud of: the new Cub Foods grocery store in the former Kmart space in Bergen Plaza.

"I support them both, and I encourage our residents to do the same," he said. "Hey, we worked so hard to get these grocery stores, and it is our duty to support them both as our own local businesses. Why wouldn't we? They're the two best grocery stores in the Twin Cities, I mean they truly are — they are among the largest and most comprehensive. Why go someplace else?"

Karwoski said the city invested strategically in landscaping, and the two sites on 10th Street North just west of Interstate 694 represent "a welcoming, fresh face for Oakdale."

For the past few weeks, Karwoski has been getting up to speed on county matters. He has met with all the department heads and toured the departments and jail. He has been in Tampa, Fla., for the past few days for the Kauffman Foundation's annual Mayors Conference on Entrepreneurship.

His last day as mayor was Dec. 5, then Lori Pulkrabek, mayor pro tem, took over.

At its next meeting on Dec. 13, the council is expected to appoint Paul Reinke to serve as mayor until a special election is held. Karwoski's term expires in January 2019.

Reinke, who decided not to run for re-election to the council in November, was runner-up to Karwoski in the 2014 mayoral contest.

Lifetime tickets to Masters

When he's not serving the public, Karwoski plays golf. He is a member at St. Croix National Golf and Event Center in Somerset, Wis., and each year attends the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga.

"My claim to fame is I have two lifetime badges to the Masters," he said. "They have a lottery for tickets given out. I was on the practice-round list, just hoping to get those, and I went 10 years without even getting awarded practice-round tickets."

Somehow, Karwoski's name was taken off the practice-round ticket list and put on the waiting list to purchase tournament play tickets.

"Then a couple of months later I got a letter that said 'Congratulations!'" he said. "I couldn't believe it. So since 2001, I've gotten two tickets."

Karwoski takes three people with him to attend the tournament in early April. They rent a house in Augusta and take turns using the tickets.

He said winning the Masters lottery was a stroke of luck for someone who never won anything before. "If there were 100 door prizes being given away at a golf event and 101 golfers, I'd be the one who wouldn't get one," he said. "I was that kind of guy, I never won anything, so I've been bringing people down — so they can check that off their bucket lists.

Stan Karwoski

• Home: Oakdale

• Birth date: June 10, 1957

• Family: Wife, Linda; one son and three daughters; two grandchildren

• Education: Harding High School, St. Paul; associate's degree in mechanical design; bachelor's in business management

• Occupation: Retired in June after working for 38 years as a designer at Graco in Minneapolis

• Little-known facts: Karwoski is a Vulcan and served on the 2000 Krewe for the St. Paul Winter Carnival. In 2011, he was Notos, Prince of the South Wind. He is also a cross-country skier and has competed in 19 American Birkebeiner races from Cable to Hayward, Wis.